The fortified parish church of La Inmaculada Concepcion de la Virgen Maria.
Bohol played an important role in the history of the Visayas because it was on this island at a spot known as Bo-ol, between Tagbilaran City and Baclayon that Miguel Lopez de Legazpi forged a blood compact with the local leader Katunaw (Sikatuna) in 1565. The forging of friendly relations was timely and strategically important since the memory of an earlier attack in 1562 or 63 by Ternateños under the leadership of the Portuguese, who posed as Castilians, was still fresh. Coming to Bohol in the guise of trade, the foreigners destroyed a village built on stilts on the shallow Dauis Channel formed by the islands of Bohol and Panglao. As a result of this attack, many Boholanos fled to Baclayon, even to northern Mindanao, specifically to Dapitan.
Bo-ol, now marked by a historical marker and a heroic monument by national artist, Napoleon V. Abueva, a native of Clarin, Bohol, faces this narrow channel. Peaceful relations with the inhabitants of the islands, which Legazpi was mandated to colonize, was necessary. While the Christian faith had been preached earlier in Bohol by a Portuguese priest, Francisco de Castro, evangelization was not thorough nor systematic. So Doña Catalina de Bolaños, mother of the encomendero of the island, Pedro de Gamboa, asked the Jesuits in Cebu to evangelize the island. A chapel had already been built for the encomienda’s Christian residents, when Juan de Torres and Gabriel Sanchez arrived in November 1596. Their first mission was at Baclayon, probably the center of the encomienda. Then moving up the Loboc River, Sanchez arrived at a trading station, Loboc, where he successfully gathered fourteen scattered villages into a compact reduccion. The Jesuits later travelled north to Talibon(g) where another station was founded.
To administer this territory, which over the centuries had more and more mission stations and later parishes, the Jesuits chose a central house or residencia. From this administrative center, pairs of missionaries would be sent to different parts of the island, returning to the center after their round of duties and gathering as a large group twice a year for prayer, recollection and study. Baclayon was chosen as the first residencia.
In 1621, the Jesuits of the Visayas gathered in Cebu to celebrate the canonization of Sts. Ignatius Loyola and Francis Xavier. During their absence a revolt broke out known as the “diwata revolt” because it was ignited by stories that the ancient spirit deities or diwata had appeared in the mountains inviting the Boholanos to flee from the towns and reducciones of the Spaniards. There in the mountain forests they would be free from taxes and other exactions of colonial rule. Besides, the spirits promised abundant rice and victuals for all. Except for Baclayon and Loboc, the rest of Bohol’s town apostized. The revolt was lead by a local babailan or shaman named Tamblot so the revolt is also called Tamblot revolt.
This revolt may have galvanized the need to fortify Baclayon besides its location exposed it to seaborne raiders. Jesuit chroniclers assert that the fortification of churches in the Visayas began in Leyte in the 1630s under the direction of Melchor de Vera, SJ, who was responsible for fortifying Zamboanga also in the same era. Perhaps by the mid-17th century Baclayon was already fortified. For further safety, the Jesuits moved the residencia inland to Loboc. This placed the mission superior in a safer position from which to orchestrate the works of evangelization.
Writing in 1754, Delgado reports the existence of a “fortaleza” and stone “baluarte” at Baclayon. He describes the fort as quadrilateral and notes that the Jesuits preferred to live in the baluarte beside the sea rather than in the convento, enclosed by walls as it was more salubrious. Only in times of alarm did the Jesuits retire to the safety of the fort.
When the Jesuits left in 1768 and administration transferred to the Recollects thereafter, the Recollects inherited a cruciform church, with an extension at the epistle transept that served as living quarters, a base for a belltower, which may have served as a forward fortification, a fort and a smaller baluarte by the sea. The first act of the Recollects was to complete the bell tower, which was completed on 20 May 1777 and dedicated to San Andres the patronal namesake of Fray Andres de Santissima Trinidad OAR, who was parish priest from 1775 to 1787.